Diversity street dancers feel so Connected in live shows in the age of social media

Diversity: Connecting through dance in the digital era

DIVERSITY’S Connected tour may have begun as a tenth anniversary show, but the disconnection caused by Covid lockdowns means the 79 gigs are being stretched across the London street dancers’ 13th year.

Already, their longest-ever itinerary on their tenth tour has taken in one York Barbican performance and afternoon meet-and-greet session with fans on April 4, when creator and choreographer Ashley Banjo, brother Jordan and Perri Kiely held a press day ahead of a run of Yorkshire dates.

Diversity, 2009 winners of ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent, will be returning to York Barbican on April 27, as well as playing Harrogate Convention Centre on May 8, with further Yorkshire shows in Halifax and Sheffield as part of a rearranged four-month trek to 34 British and Irish towns and cities from March to June.

79 shows, Ashley. Wow! “We could do more,” he asserts. “When you start to get towards 100, you think ‘why don’t we go up to playing arenas?’. The answer is, ‘we could, but it’s much harder to do the same quality of shows because the connection is different. This way, we get audience participation that’s just such fun.

Ready, teddy go: Diversity in action at York Barbican on April 5. Picture: Sarah Hollis

“We like to keep it at this size of venue, and even if we grow, I don’t think we would take it anywhere bigger because I love this scale of show.”

Ashley remembers the early days of touring after winning Britain’s Got Talent: “On our first venture into touring, we had 11 shows altogether, and not many promoters believed that dancers could fill venues.”

How wrong that perception was. Instead, Diversity have stayed true to their street dance roots while acquiring ever more devotees. Now they are presenting Connected, Ashley’s show about the internet, social media, the digital era and how it connects us all.

“We ask the audience questions around that idea, asking ‘how many of you use the internet?’, and they all put their hands up, but when you ask, ‘what is the internet?’, they can’t define what it is, and yet we use it every day. Our shows want to connect with people on a deeper level.”

Diversity’s Black Lives Matter-inspired routine in performance at York Barbican Centre: Picture: Sarah Hollis

This tour is the first chance to see Diversity give a live performance of their Black Lives Matter-inspired dance that prompted 24,500 complaints to Ofcom after they premiered the routine in a special appearance on Britain’s Got Talent on September 5 2020.

Ashley’s choreography took the form of a father guiding his son through the events of 2020, from the pandemic to police brutality against black people and George Floyd’s death that led to the Black Lives Matter protest marches.

The Mail Online published 20 articles on the matter, as complaints to media regulator Ofcom piled up over the dance routine’s “unsuitability for a family audience” and how it was “endorsing a political movement”.

Britain’s Got Talent was cleared of any breach of broadcasting rules, Ofcom declaring that Ashley’s dance was “a call for social cohesion and unity”.

“Our shows want to connect with people on a deeper level,” says Diversity creator and choreographer Ashley Banjo as they tour their tenth show, Connected. Picture: Sarah Hollis

“Creativity is always a leap of faith,” posted Ashley on Instagram in the immediate aftermath. “All I did was what felt right and I’d do it 100 times over … Sending love to everyone that stood by us.”

Looking back now, he says: “A huge amount of good has come out of it, and we’re including the routine in Connected. Having done it first on TV, this tour is the first time we get to see  the audience reaction live. It’s quite magical when humans connect in that room.

“If you challenge – and you can say this about anything – things that feel they’ve been ingrained in our lives for so long, you’re always going to get an opposing opinion, but we were surprised at the intensity of the opposition.

“That only shows why the conversation is so important, and why being able to do almost 80 shows is an incredible opportunity for us.”

“With Diversity, people love the shows because there are so many talented dancers,” says Jordan Banjo. Picture: Sarah Hollis

Jordan and Perri have been part of the Diversity troupe from the start. “It’s an incredible feeling still doing the shows. The first thing you think after the TV success is, ‘they’ll give it a year’,” says Jordan.

“I was quite a cynical 16-year-old, thinking ‘make the most of it’. When Ashley first said ‘let’s do a tour’, I thought ‘that’s a bit crazy’.”

Thirteen years on, “People love Peri because they’ve grown up with him, and now they like listening to Peri and me in the morning on the Kiss Breakfast show. People loved seeing Ashley on Dancing On Ice,” says Jordan.

“With Diversity, people love the shows because there are so many talented dancers, with 15 of us on stage for most of the time, but it’s not just about being wicked dancers, or Ashley bring a brilliant choreographer, but with Ash, he really understands what people want to see and how to put it across.”

Perri is delighted by the reaction to the Black Lives Matter routine. “People are crying, we’re getting standing ovations,” he says. “It felt so negative after the TV broadcast that I remember thinking, ‘I don’t think we’ll ever do another show’, but actually we’ve got a lot of backing.”

Diversity: Connected, at Halifax Victoria Theatre, April 24, 3.30pm and 7.45pm; York Barbican, April 27, 7.45pm; Sheffield City Hall, May 1, 2.30pm and 7.45pm; Harrogate Convention Centre, May 8, 7.45pm. Box office: Halifax, victoriatheatre.co.uk; York, yorkbarbican.co.uk; Sheffield, sheffieldcityhall.co.uk; Harrogate, harrogateconventioncentre.co.uk.

Diversity’s poster artwork for their Connected 2022 tour